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Communication

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Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement

For decades, social movements vied for attention from the mainstream mass media—newspapers, radio, and television. Today, some say that social media power social movements, from Iran’s so-called “Twitter revolution” to the supposed beginnings of the Egyptian revolution on a Facebook page. Yet, as Sasha Costanza-Chock reports, activists and organizers agree that social media enhances, rather than replaces, face-to-face organizing. The revolution will be tweeted, but tweets alone do not the revolution make. In Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Costanza-Chock traces a broader social movement media ecology. Through a richly detailed account of daily media practices in the immigrant rights movement, he argues that social movements engage in transmedia organizing. Despite the current spotlight on digital media, he finds, social movement media practices tend to be cross-platform, participatory, and linked to action. Immigrant rights organizers leverage social media creatively, alongside a range of tools from posters and street theater to Spanish-language radio, print, and television.

Drawing on extensive interviews, workshops, and media organizing projects, Costanza-Chock presents case studies of transmedia organizing in the immigrant rights movement between 2006 and 2012. Chapters focus on the mass protests against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill; coverage of police brutality against peaceful activists; efforts to widen access to digital media tools and skills for low-wage immigrant workers; paths to participation in DREAM activism; and the implications of professionalism for transmedia organizing. These cases show us how transmedia organizing helps strengthen movement identity, win political and economic victories, and transform broader consciousness.

Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism

The United States ushered in a new era of small-scale broadcasting in 2000 when it began issuing low-power FM (LPFM) licenses for noncommercial radio stations around the country. Over the next decade, several hundred of these newly created low-wattage stations took to the airwaves. In Low Power to the People, Christina Dunbar-Hester describes the practices of an activist organization focused on LPFM during this era. Despite its origins as a pirate broadcasting collective, the group eventually shifted toward building and expanding regulatory access to new, licensed stations. These radio activists consciously cast radio as an alternative to digital utopianism, promoting an understanding of electronic media that emphasizes the local community rather than a global audience of Internet users.

Dunbar-Hester focuses on how these radio activists impute emancipatory politics to the “old” medium of radio technology by promoting the idea that “microradio” broadcasting holds the potential to empower ordinary people at the local community level. The group’s methods combine political advocacy with a rare commitment to hands-on technical work with radio hardware, although the activists’ hands-on, inclusive ethos was hampered by persistent issues of race, class, and gender.

Dunbar-Hester’s study of activism around an “old” medium offers broader lessons about how political beliefs are expressed through engagement with specific technologies. It also offers insight into contemporary issues in media policy that is particularly timely as the FCC issues a new round of LPFM licenses.

How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age

Feature films, television shows, homemade videos, tweets, blogs, and breaking news: digital media offer an always-accessible, apparently inexhaustible supply of entertainment and information. Although choices seems endless, public attention is not. How do digital media find the audiences they need in an era of infinite choice? In The Marketplace of Attention, James Webster explains how audiences take shape in the digital age.

Webster describes the factors that create audiences, including the preferences and habits of media users, the role of social networks, the resources and strategies of media providers, and the growing impact of media measures—from ratings to user recommendations. He incorporates these factors into one comprehensive framework: the marketplace of attention. In doing so, he shows that the marketplace works in ways that belie our greatest hopes and fears about digital media.

Some observers claim that digital media empower a new participatory culture; others fear that digital media encourage users to retreat to isolated enclaves. Webster shows that public attention is at once diverse and concentrated—that users move across a variety of outlets, producing high levels of audience overlap. So although audiences are fragmented in ways that would astonish midcentury broadcasting executives, Webster argues that this doesn’t signal polarization. He questions whether our preferences are immune from media influence, and he describes how our encounters with media might change our tastes. In the digital era’s marketplace of attention, Webster claims, we typically encounter ideas that cut across our predispositions. In the process, we will remake the marketplace of ideas and reshape the twenty-first century public sphere.

Using Big Data to Engineer a Better World

Big Data is made up of lots of little data: numbers entered into cell phones, addresses entered into GPS devices, visits to websites, online purchases, ATM transactions, and any other activity that leaves a digital trail. Although the abuse of Big Data—surveillance, spying, hacking—has made headlines, it shouldn’t overshadow the abundant positive applications of Big Data. In Reality Mining, Nathan Eagle and Kate Greene cut through the hype and the headlines to explore the positive potential of Big Data, showing the ways in which the analysis of Big Data (“Reality Mining”) can be used to improve human systems as varied as political polling and disease tracking, while considering user privacy.

Eagle, a recognized expert in the field, and Greene, an experienced technology journalist, describe Reality Mining at five different levels: the individual, the neighborhood and organization, the city, the nation, and the world. For each level, they first offer a nontechnical explanation of data collection methods and then describe applications and systems that have been or could be built. These include a mobile app that helps smokers quit smoking; a workplace “knowledge system”; the use of GPS, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone data to manage and predict traffic flows; and the analysis of social media to track the spread of disease. Eagle and Greene argue that Big Data, used respectfully and responsibly, can help people live better, healthier, and happier lives.

Technological Futures and the Myth of Digital Universalism

In Networking Peripheries, Anita Chan shows how digital cultures flourish beyond Silicon Valley and other celebrated centers of technological innovation and entrepreneurship. The evolving digital cultures in the Global South vividly demonstrate that there are more ways than one to imagine what digital practice and global connection could look like. To explore these alternative developments, Chan investigates the diverse initiatives being undertaken to “network” the nation in contemporary Peru, from attempts to promote the intellectual property of indigenous artisans to the national distribution of digital education technologies to open technology activism in rural and urban zones.

Drawing on ethnographic accounts from government planners, regional free-software advocates, traditional artisans, rural educators, and others, Chan demonstrates how such developments unsettle dominant conceptions of information classes and innovations zones. Government efforts to turn rural artisans into a new creative class progress alongside technology activists’ efforts to promote indigenous rights through information tactics; plans pressing for the state wide adoption of open source–based technologies advance while the One Laptop Per Child initiative aims to network rural classrooms by distributing laptops. As these cases show, the digital cultures and network politics emerging on the periphery do more than replicate the technological future imagined as universal from the center.

Networked Innovations in International Development

The emergence of open networked models made possible by digital technology has the potential to transform international development. Open network structures allow people to come together to share information, organize, and collaborate. Open development harnesses this power, to create new organizational forms and improve people’s lives; it is not only an agenda for research and practice but also a statement about how to approach international development. In this volume, experts explore a variety of applications of openness, addressing challenges as well as opportunities.

Open development requires new theoretical tools that focus on real world problems, consider a variety of solutions, and recognize the complexity of local contexts. After exploring the new theoretical terrain, the book describes a range of cases in which open models address such specific development issues as biotechnology research, improving education, and access to scholarly publications. Contributors then examine tensions between open models and existing structures, including struggles over privacy, intellectual property, and implementation. Finally, contributors offer broader conceptual perspectives, considering processes of social construction, knowledge management, and the role of individual intent in the development and outcomes of social models.

Contributors
Carla Bonina, Ineke Buskens, Leslie Chan, Abdallah Daar, Jeremy de Beer, Mark Graham, Eve Gray, Anita Gurumurthy, Havard Haarstad, Blane Harvey, Myra Khan, Melissa Loudon, Aaron K. Martin, Hassan Masum, Chidi Oguamanam, Katherine M. A. Reilly, Ulrike Rivett, Karl Schroeder, Parminder Jeet Singh, Matthew L. Smith, Marshall S. Smith

Copublished with the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC)

When the Information Preferences of the Media and the Public Diverge

The sites of major media organizations—CNN, USA Today, the Guardian, and others—provide the public with much of the online news they consume. But although a large proportion of the top stories these sites disseminate cover politics, international relations, and economics, users of these sites show a preference (as evidenced by the most viewed stories) for news about sports, crime, entertainment, and weather. In this book, Pablo Boczkowski and Eugenia Mitchelstein examine this gap and consider the implications for the media industry and democratic life in the digital age.

Drawing on analyses of more than 50,000 stories posted on twenty news sites in seven countries in North and South America and Western Europe, Boczkowski and Mitchelstein find that the gap in news preferences exists regardless of ideological orientation or national media culture. They show that it narrows in times of heightened political activity (including presidential elections or government crises) as readers feel compelled to inform themselves about public affairs but remains wide during times of normal political activity. Boczkowski and Mitchelstein also find that the gap is not affected by innovations in Web-native forms of storytelling such as blogs and user-generated content on mainstream news sites. Keeping the account of the news gap up to date, in the book’s coda they extend the analysis through the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Drawing upon these findings, the authors explore the news gap’s troubling consequences for the matrix that connects communication, technology, and politics in the digital age.

Young People, the Internet, and Civic Participation

There has been widespread concern in contemporary Western societies about declining engagement in civic life; people are less inclined to vote, to join political parties, to campaign for social causes, or to trust political processes. Young people in particular are frequently described as alienated or apathetic. Some have looked optimistically to new media—and particularly the Internet—as a means of revitalizing civic life and democracy. Governments, political parties, charities, NGOs, activists, religious and ethnic groups, and grassroots organizations have created a range of youth-oriented websites that encourage widely divergent forms of civic engagement and use varying degrees of interactivity. But are young people really apathetic and lacking in motivation? Does the Internet have the power to re-engage those disenchanted with politics and civic life?

Based on a major research project funded by the European Commission, this book attempts to understand the role of the Internet in promoting young people’s participation. Examples are drawn from Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom—countries offering contrasting political systems and cultural contexts. The book also addresses broader questions about the meaning of civic engagement, the nature of new forms of participation, and their implications for the future of civic life.

Ever since the term “crowdsourcing” was coined in 2006 by Wired writer Jeff Howe, group activities ranging from the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary to the choosing of new colors for M&Ms have been labeled with this most buzz-generating of media buzzwords. In this accessible but authoritative account, grounded in the empirical literature, Daren Brabham explains what crowdsourcing is, what it is not, and how it works.

Crowdsourcing, Brabham tells us, is an online, distributed problem solving and production model that leverages the collective intelligence of online communities for specific purposes set forth by a crowdsourcing organization—corporate, government, or volunteer. Uniquely, it combines a bottom-up, open, creative process with top-down organizational goals. Crowdsourcing is not open source production, which lacks the top-down component; it is not a market research survey that offers participants a short list of choices; and it is qualitatively different from predigital open innovation and collaborative production processes, which lacked the speed, reach, rich capability, and lowered barriers to entry enabled by the Internet.

Brabham describes the intellectual roots of the idea of crowdsourcing in such concepts as collective intelligence, the wisdom of crowds, and distributed computing. He surveys the major issues in crowdsourcing, including crowd motivation, the misconception of the amateur participant, crowdfunding, and the danger of “crowdsploitation” of volunteer labor, citing real-world examples from Threadless, InnoCentive, and other organizations. And he considers the future of crowdsourcing in both theory and practice, describing its possible roles in journalism, governance, national security, and science and health.

ICTs, Development, and the Capabilities Approach

Information and communication technologies (ICTs)--especially the Internet and the mobile phone--have changed the lives of people all over the world. These changes affect not just the affluent populations of income-rich countries but also disadvantaged people in both global North and South, who may use free Internet access in telecenters and public libraries, chat in cybercafes with distant family members, and receive information by text message or email on their mobile phones. Drawing on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to development--which shifts the focus from economic growth to a more holistic, freedom-based idea of human development--Dorothea Kleine in Technologies of Choice? examines the relationship between ICTs, choice, and development.

Kleine proposes a conceptual framework, the Choice Framework, that can be used to analyze the role of technologies in development processes. She applies the Choice Framework to a case study of microentrepreneurs in a rural community in Chile. Kleine combines ethnographic research at the local level with interviews with national policy makers, to contrast the high ambitions of Chile’s pioneering ICT policies with the country’s complex social and economic realities. She examines three key policies of Chile’s groundbreaking Agenda Digital: public access, digital literacy, and an online procurement system. The policy lesson we can learn from Chile’s experience, Kleine concludes, is the necessity of measuring ICT policies against a people-centered understanding of development that has individual and collective choice at its heart.

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